Repeating Koch’s Biggest Blunder

Few people remember Mayor Edward Koch regretting anything, much less anything he fought tooth and nail for, and belligerently. Tucked into the New York Times obituary Feb. 1 was a little-known fact that Koch, who championed the closure of Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital, later acknowledged privately that he regretted closing it. Despite fierce community opposition and his closest aides telling him to give it up, he insisted on the closure of the hospital. He told an audience at New York’s 92nd Street Y that it was a huge mistake.

“It was Sydenham all over again,” a Brooklyn resident told me, reflecting on last night’s packed Town Meeting and scores of pickets outside. What’s at stake is the closure of two Brooklyn hospitals: Long Island College Hospital (LICH) now managed by Downstate Medical Center in Downtown/North Brooklyn, and Interfaith Medical Center, in Central Brooklyn. Have New York policymakers learned the lesson that Koch learned too late, or will this mistake be repeated in Brooklyn? Will Brooklyn residents with emergencies: strokes, heart attacks, what have you, get to the hospital in time to survive?


At a Town Meeting last night in Manhattan, elected leaders, patients, and staff spoke out, vociferously opposing Downstate’s vote to close Long Island College Hospital. A protester called H. Carl McCall, chair of SUNY Board of Trustees, a “sell-out.” The story continues to unfold, but it must be stressed that the State Health Commissioner has opposed the Long Island College Hospital Closure.

A Nov. 28, 2011 Brooklyn Medicaid Design Report (titled At the Brink of Transformation: Restructuring the Healthcare Delivery System in Brooklyn), a report commissioned and approved by the New York State Health Commissioner concluded:

“In light of the recent acquisition of LICH, SUNY Downstate should consider consolidating inpatient services at the LICH campus, thereby eliminating excess capacity and permitting the medical center to focus on inpatient resources and the expansion of services at Kings County Hospital, SUNY Downstate should reconsider any planned expansion of beds at the former Victory Hospital site and any development of an ambulatory care facility in the vicinity of University Hospital or at the former Victory Hospital site should be denied.”-NY Medicaid Redesign Report, 2011, Downloaded from NYS Department of Health website.

The Long Island College Hospital Community

The community is livid. For more than ten years, Continuum owned LICH. According to many at the meeting, Continuum sold off valuable properties in Downtown Brooklyn and used them to bolster Manhattan facilities. Downstate was brought in to rescue LICH, yet voted earlier this week to close Long Island College Hospital.

Anyone who has driven in North Brooklyn knows that the traffic is excessive. Without Long Island College Hospital, North Brooklyn residents might never get to a hospital in time. Last night, a resident spoke about his wife who had a heart attack and made it through at Long Island College Hospital. He argued that with the excess minutes driving to Brooklyn Hospital or Lutheran Hospital, or across the bridge, and his wife would have been dead. Downstate cannot act in a vacuum and public hearings will be held. Many people doubt that the State will authorize Downstate to go ahead. That should reassure residents in Brooklyn.

According to a press release issued today by Brooklyn City Council Member Letitia “Tish” James, “Employees of both hospitals have criticized SUNY, and have suggested that the proposed closures will facilitate the transition to for-profit healthcare in Brooklyn, citing “an experimental ‘pilot program’ in the governor’s draft budget that would allow private investors to create a for- profit hospital in Brooklyn.”

“There is no justification for closing hospitals, instead of providing them with the resources they need to be successful,” said James. “These proposed shutdowns are deeply upsetting and should concern all Brooklyn residents.” Also troubling are media reports that SUNY plans to sell LICH to residential developers likely to create luxury condos, noted James.

Interfaith Medical Center

Interfaith Medical Center is another story. Serving poor African-American and Caribbean American residents in Central Brooklyn, Interfaith declared bankruptcy on December 3rd. About one-third of the beds at Interfaith are for behavioral and substance abuse. Without these beds, marked gaps in mental health services will remain. Medical and surgical beds account for other beds.

The Brooklyn Medicaid Design Group recommended an integration between Interfaith Hospital, Wyckoff Hospital, and Brooklyn Hospital, with Brooklyn Hospital, the lead. Wyckoff Hospital refused the plan. Earlier this week, Interfaith signed a Memorandum of Understanding, leaving Interfaith and Brooklyn to negotiate the terms of integration.

But the group, Save Our Safety Net, worries that Brooklyn Hospital will take over, cutting all but psychiatry services, services for the elderly, and a hospice.  “The community needs more services than that,” said health activist Judy Wessler.

James said: “New York State needs to step up and secure the $20 million needed to guarantee another year of health services for Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights residents. Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, I believe a merger that incorporates the vision of Interfaith can be established. It is imperative that we move towards that goal to save this comprehensive hospital and the 1600 jobs that would otherwise be eliminated.”




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6 Responses to Repeating Koch’s Biggest Blunder

  1. Susanna Heller says:

    This is a fantastic analysis of the history and present day war on working people, and their communities in this city.

  2. Laura Newman says:

    Thank you for the complement. It would be great if this gets around, not so much for me (although that is nice), but for Brooklyn residents.

  3. Dev Rogers says:

    An impressive overview of a complex situation. Thanks

  4. Amy says:

    This is so disturbing. A continuation of the ongoing War on the Poor, instead of War on Poverty. Actually, it’s anyone who happens to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, which means out of midtown Manhattan. Everyone in govt seems to be so short-sighted these days.

  5. Deek says:

    Thanks for your analysis. The closures and mergers of hospitals are difficult decisions given the lack of resources to maintain high-quality health care in all communities. That said, we need a better mechanism to assure that quality facilities are not clustered in select communities to the exclusion of others. An important part of recovery can be the ability of patients to have visitors who contribute to the emotional component of wellness and recovery. By removing facilities from poorer communities we risk that family and friends will lack transportation to maintain continuity of interaction with those who might be able to provide support to patients when they most need it.

  6. Amy Neifeld says:

    There was a great editorial by Pete Hamill on the closing of LICH, Continuum, the politics and greed of healthcare in the Sunday Daily News. Hamill writes of Brezenoff as a player behind the scenes, who extracts all the profits.

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